The KeSPA League was a major cultural shift in eSports and it solidified the team format as the future in Korea. It wasn't long before official team houses were set up where players could live, train, and practice on a consistent basis to improve their skills. More importantly, it allowed for the development and recruitment of new talent on a consistent basis.
"What a team league does is it takes it from the top 1% of high-level players making any money to about 20% by helping create a healthy environment to grow the sport and bring more people into it," Mack explains. "That way you have more people competing for more positions. You no longer have to be the best player in the world; you can be among the best in a position where you can train alongside the best in a team environment and improve your skills to perhaps one day be the best. It's a more nurturing, stable, and healthy competitive environment. And as a league, it means you're playing all the time and consistently improving your skills alongside your peers."
In so many ways the CSL's success is a no-brainer. Colleges are bustling hubs of talented young individuals, many of which are already gamers and members of online teams/clans/guilds. In most cases the foundation for student teams are already in place with the school itself acting as home base. Best of all, college students bring with them a host of skills as majors in marketing, business leadership, communications, writing, and other fields.
There is no better place to recruit the future faces of eSports than from the already talented, capable, and well-spoken student bodies at universities across the world. The result is a cross-pollination of students integrating their career ambitions with their passion for eSports, and vice versa.
The CSL grew very quickly thanks to these academic roots, and the barrier to entry for new teams into the CSL is astonishingly low.
"The current requirements for registration and membership for the CSL simply mandates teams provide full player information and proof of enrollment via university e-mail before the start of each season, a team roster of at least seven players, as well as a team captain and team coordinator (neither of which are required to compete themselves)," Mack notes.
"Team captains at most participating universities have applied to become recognized as official clubs by the university and student body, allowing them to promote the team, league, and various events. It allows teams to hold sanctioned fundraisers on campus and request university travel pay to events. It also allows them to officially request space for team meetings, practice, and events. Since most campuses have game rooms, student arcades, or LAN centers, there is a natural meeting place for teams to hold meetings and practice alongside one another in a 'war room' setting when they aren't doing so from the comfort of their own custom rigs."
It's a big move for both gaming and academia and is one of the first global pushes towards giving eSports a defined presence in the academic world. As officially recognized clubs, teams are not only recognized by their student government and listed in the university's yearly catalog, they also benefit from exposure on their university's website and school newspaper. It adds a certain level of academic legitimacy and professionalism to eSports.
The results are already showing, and sponsors and companies have taken notice. Initially, the CSL, like any organization, was looking for ways to fund and sponsor the league in order to keep it solvent.
Mack reveals how a steady flow of capital came along from professional gaming organization and eSports media giant Azubu shortly after the CSL incorporated last year:
"Azubu came along at just the right time, liked what we were doing, and agreed to partner and sponsor us. It prevented us from having to pass on any registration or entry fees to teams, something that might have imposed a barrier to entry. Having Azubu on our side creates a healthier league because it allows us to support our teams and accommodate them to the best of our ability. We're even giving away several scholarships this season for various achievements including outstanding player, community service, leadership, and outstanding academics. With the scholarship and so many things we do, we want to be additive to each student player's college experience. We want teams to love being part of the CSL."
This frees up club money for team shirts or jerseys, pep rallies, computer equipment, and event travel. It allows teams to do everything that school clubs do, and it allows them to do it in an official capacity.
There's definitely something to be said for the feeling players get from being a part of a team and of something larger than just themselves. This is part of the CSL's goal in championing the community and culture of eSports, rather than just the individual.
"Azubu saw value in us because we are focused on the amateur and developmental scene as well as the pro scene," Mack said. "We represent everyone who at some point or another thinks they can become a pro player. We represent everyone who never thought they could have a chance but now do. We represent everyone who never thought they'd make it on top of a stage in front of a live crowd but is eager to prove they can do it."